The Onepū Wetland and Mountain Bike Park is now accessible to powered wheelchair users and the mobility challenged thanks to Bay of Plenty Regional Council funding.
The Edgecumbe Lions Club made a successful application to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's Environmental Enhancement Fund in June and have since constructed several paths to improve public access to the Onepū Wetlands and some sections of the Mountain Bike Park.
Edgecumbe Lions president and Eastern Bay of Plenty councillor Bill Clark said the idea to create wide, stable tracks by the wetland came about after one of the wetland restoration volunteers, Lyndal Kennedy, brought her 14-year-old son Tim with her who uses a powered wheelchair.
"Through that we could see the possibility of opening up the wetland and walking tracks to a wider range of community members including powered wheelchair users, mums with prams and the elderly," Clark said.
"These tracks have made for a more inclusive space and we are grateful to Tim for giving us a wider perspective.
"I believe the tracks have enabled the wetland to be a unique rehabilitation space and I can see many more agencies getting involved and building on this success."
Kennedy said the wetland was a unique space to bring Tim as the only other public spaces with wheelchair access she knew of were urban.
"It is the perfect rehabilitation space to bring Tim as it's very peaceful to be surrounded by nature and to have no urban encroachment. Often wheelchair users are excluded from nature due to the lack of access."
The paths have also helped Tim to fully participate in the wetland restoration, which he does as part of his home-schooling.
He said he enjoys the freedom of being in nature and the independence of being able to travel the paths alone.
Council's Corporate Planning Lead Graeme Howard said this case was a perfect example of a community group using Regional Council's Environmental Enhancement Fund for the ongoing benefit of the wider community.
"It is always heart-warming to see how community groups, in this case the Edgecumbe Lions, take the funding and run with it to create something special.
"The fund is designed to enable community-based projects to improve the environment, raise environmental awareness and to use the enthusiasm and skills of the community. This project certainly ticks all those boxes."
Each financial year Regional Council allocates $300,000 to the Environmental Enhancement Fund of which individual projects can receive up to $25,000. The Edgecumbe Lions received just under $5,000 for their project.
Howard said the fund had already been fully subscribed for this financial year but was encouraging anyone interested to still apply.
"Please do not hesitate to apply, we will be happy to consider all applications in the next financial year, beginning on July 1 2022" he said.
Projects must be on public land or land with public access to be eligible.
Find out more about the fund here Environmental Enhancement Fund | Bay of Plenty Regional Council | Toi Moana (boprc.govt.nz)